Monday, October 31, 2011

Whole Worship for the Whole Body of Christ: The Day of All Souls

November 2, though officially named the “Commemoration of All Faithful Departed” by the Church, is more commonly known by its old name: All Souls’ Day. The history of this commemoration is given in brief here,

There are many traditions around the Christian Church connected with this day. Most focus on offering prayers for the dead in Christ throughout the ages. This linking of the saints of the past with those of today is very much in the New Testament understanding of sainthood, where everyone who is part of Christ’s Body the Church is described as being a “saint of God.” This day also connects the "big picture" of our faith (the Communion of Saints, celebrated on All Saints' Day) with the personal side, the individual losses we bear. This is partly why it has a particular power, felt mostly by those who have known death's capacity to distort and diminish life.

On All Souls’ Day proper, St. Timothy's usually offers two liturgies: one for those whose schedules and abilities permit a daylight observance, and another for parishioners needing an evening service. Both liturgies are Prayer Book Requiems – Eucharists offered to God in commemoration of the dead in Christ.

The lessons from Scripture and the special prayers used are from the Burial liturgies, with one special addition: the reading of the necrology or memorial list, which includes all those names members of our parish (and others, as well) have asked to be read at the altar, and those who have been buried from this parish this last twelvemonth. When possible (i.e. when it isn’t a driving rain outside), we then process to the Memorial Garden for the memorable Litany of the Dead and concluding prayers. For us the grave is not the end of the journey, but the portal through which we all must pass into that "larger life" awaiting us with Christ in the Kingdom.

There are many theological reasons for this day: the centrality of the Communion of Saints in the Catholic Faith is deeply affirmed, the victory of Christ’s death and resurrection is shown forth by denying death’s power to separate all members of His Body in a final and decisive way, and a positive sense of connection between the “Church Militant” (those struggling against evil in this world) and the “Church Triumphant” in heaven is drawn – as shown so powerfully in the Book of Revelation.

Yet it is not only formal theology that counts in faith: the pastoral element, as an application of the “Faith once delivered to the saints” is also highly significant. On All Souls’ we experience deep emotions: loss, sorrow, sometimes even anger, regret… the very stuff of our fallen and broken world. Yet, we do so in the embrace of the Gospel: the story of God’s victory over these things is the foundation for this openness to exploring a territory fraught with unseen dangers – yet a territory we must traverse as disciples of Our Lord. Because Christ has been here before, he knows the way. His victory is ours, but we must take his yoke upon us, sharing in His victory even as He has shared in our sufferings—unto death.

So, All Souls’ is at turns a somber, tearful, peaceful, comforting, and assuring day. I have seen the unique way God performs “soul-surgery” in the liturgy – drawing connections, kindling hope, and shining light where darkness had reigned. As with all authentic Christian worship, All Souls’ day is not a “head trip,” limited to our intellects. It engages our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual selves: whole worship for the whole person. It is one of the great blessings of living in this tradition. For this teaching and practice, I am deeply thankful.
May they rest in peace!

The Collect for All Souls’ Day
O God, the King of saints, we praise and magnify thy holy Name for all thy servants who have finished their course in thy faith and fear; for the blessed Virgin Mary; for the holy patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we beseech thee that, encouraged by their examples, aided by their prayers, and strengthened by their fellowship, we also may be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; through the merits of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(Some additional prayers for use on this day are located here.)

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